Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities
Ethical seafood? - Fisheries and Aquaculture at the Crossroads (ESea)

ESea - Structure, networks and funding sources

The ESea project will mobilize resources and activities through – roughly – three supplementary research lines.

Stockfish hanging from lines
Matthias Kaiser

Main content

The ESea project will mobilize resources and activities through – roughly – three supplementary research lines. Furthermore, it will draw on a core activity which is already existing and established, and additional activities which so far are to be established and financed. While the core activities will realize some of the major objectives mentioned above, additional activities will be needed in order to guarantee comprehensive coverage of the objectives and outcomes.

The three research lines are these:

  1. Culmination and harvesting of earlier research:
    There is already considerable previous research, which potentially contributes to addressing the ESea objectives. The PI in particular has a long track record relating to these objectives. Here we shall mention the following activities:
    (i) Back in 1993 the PI was the principal writer of a NENT report on aquaculture: “Oppdrettslaks – en studie i norsk teknologiutvikling”;
    (ii) Due to the success of this report, two international symposia were held in Oslo with the PI in the organizing committee, resulting in two book publications (H. Reinertsen & H. Haaland (eds.), Sustainable Fish Farming, Rotterdam 1995; Svennevig, N., Reinertsen, H. & New, M. (eds.), Sustainable Aquaculture: Food for the Future?, Rotterdam 1999), and the often quoted Holmenkollen Guidelines for Sustainable Industrial Fish Farming;
    (iii) the PI was then the first philosopher to present a keynote address at the World Aquaculture Society (Nice, 2000) and co-author of a keynote address at the European Aquaculture Society;
    (iv) invited expert on aquaculture and biotechnology for the Council of Europe (Oviedo, 1999) and FAO / WHO (Rome 2004);
    (v) supervisor for a doctoral thesis by Arne Sveinson Haiugen on ethical and environmental accounting in aquaculture (UiO, Dept. of biology 2008);
    (vi) PI for a project on value assessment of Norwegian fisheries towards 2020 (Norwegian Research Council, 1999-2000);
    (vii) PI of the project "Ethical challenges in the fisheries and aquaculture sector", financed by the Research Fund for Fisheries and Aquaculture (FHF), 2002;
    (viii) partner in the EU project “CONSENSUS – Multi-stakeholder platform for sustainable aquaculture”;
    (ix) partner in the EU project “PEGASUS – Public perceptions of genetically modified animals: science, utility, and society” with a special focus on cultured salmon (2009-2012). These and other related activities represent a valuable knowledge and data base which to date has only been partially harvested in relation to the ethical status of seafood from fisheries and aquaculture. ESea will mobilize this knowledge base.
  2. Coordination and utilization of on-going research activities:
    ESea will draw on activities which are on-going, and utilize these activities within the framework of the project. One major activity is connected to the work in the SEAT project (“Sustaining ethical aquaculture trade”, work package leader in EU funded project 2009 – 2013), involving both the PI, Arne S. Haugen and Scott Bremer, as well as doctoral student Janne Johansen. The data and experiences gathered during this project by far exceed the deliverables of the SEAT project, and shall thus be integrated into ESea. Furthermore, the PI has just completed a field trip to Kakinada in India visiting both local fisheries and aquaculture sites. The trip was funded by the Meltzer fund, and resulted in various valuable contacts and experiences directly pertaining to the question of ethics. Another on-going activity is the work the PI as president of EurSafe is doing in relation to the (aquatic food) strategy of the planned APSafe in Asia. Talks on future activities will be held in Bangkok in November 2013. Most importantly, the PI shall devote the major part of his research time to the ESea project for the coming years. Mention must also be made of the doctoral project of Helene Nilsen, supervised by the PI, whose PhD will cover the area of food and culture at SVT. The project started in 2013. The PI is also co-supervisor to another PhD project (Mads Solberg, started in 2013) at the UiB which will perform a study at the Sea Lice Research Center in Bergen.
  3. Developing new research activities and associated projects:
    ESea will act as umbrella project for a number of related activities, which currently are in the planning phase or for which external funding is sought. Each of these activities and projects will extend the knowledge base of ESea and widen the network of researchers associated to the project. We mention in particular the following activities and / or proposals:
    (i) The PI has submitted a project proposal (May 2013) entitled “GLOBALETHICS” to the Norwegian Research Council (FRIHUMSAM) which essentially addresses the question of the relation between social values, ethical principles (like equity, justice, precaution etc) and ethical norms, and is designed to be based on empirical data from five Asian countries, focused on food security in relation to aquatic food products. If funded the project will directly feed into the ESea objectives (5), (6) and (7);
    (ii) Dr. Scott Bremer is about to submit an application for a postdoc scholarship to the Norwegian Research Council (HAVBRUK), entitled “INCITE”, which centers around the issue of governance in aquaculture, in particular exploring the potential for citizen based governance in Norwegian aquaculture communities. If funded, this project will be crucial to objectives (2), (4) and (8);
    (iii) A meeting shall be held in Uppsala, followed by a meeting in Bergen, in September 2013 with Tony Pitcher and Mimi Elizabeth Lam from the Fisheries Department of the University of Vancouver, Canada. Both are recognized experts on global fisheries and their sustainability assessment. The PI has for some time had email exchanges with them, and now a firmer basis for the collaboration shall be discussed, aiming at among others an application to the North-American program of the Norwegian Research Council, in order to conduct two workshops (output c) and establish research collaboration;
    (iv) Other research opportunities, e.g. in relation to Horizon 2020 of the EC, shall be considered at a later stage.

It should be mentioned that ESea can draw on an international network of researchers. This network was established through personal contacts within other projects or research activities. Even though their involvement with ESea is not clarified or finalized yet, it is foreseen that future activities will call on them for their expertise. A comprehensive list of this network cannot be given here, but we shall tentatively mention the following names:

  • Dorothy J. Dankel, researcher at SVT and the Institute for Marine Research, Bergen, and involved in ICES.
  • Dave Little and Jimmy Young, profs at The Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling.
  • Ellen Hey, prof of public international law at the Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam.
  • Anna Olsen, researcher at the University of Porto, specialised on animal welfare.
  • Kate Millar, director of the Center for bioethics at the University of Nottingham.
  • and several researchers from the universities of Tübingen, Copenhagen, and Versailles.

The research

The upcoming research of ESea will be focussed on different objectives and activities during different stages of the project. One of the major project activities at the start will be the planning of two workshops with the Canadian researchers. A workshop in Norway shall focus on ethical issues in aquaculture, while the workshop in Canada will focus on ethical issues in fisheries. This activity will be accompanied by the planning of the TV production in 2014. A script shall be written in collaboration with Univisjon, UiB, and new footage shall be added from one or more Asian countries. A lot of the initial work will be desk research, utilizing existing publications and data. Also scholarly work on sustainability ethics will be analysed.

With the expected increase in funding several parallel lines of research shall be pursued. One main line of research will center around the question of (global) governance in fisheries and aquaculture. This is a crucial question in ESea, and new models of governance will be anaylzed, for instance as outlined in J. Kooinman’s important publication Fish for Life (Amsterdam University Press, 2005), and in part discussed in Dr. Scott Bremer’s dissertation. The governance issue arises at the interface of different social systems, institutions and groups, and takes on formal and informal features. Arguably there is a need for improved governance both in fisheries and aquaculture, as the potential for social conflicts is still a major hurdle for further development. In particular in the developing world and in large parts of Asia, one detects that mere rulings by government (legal instruments) show little effect. Improved governance is needed along the whole value chain, and ESea adopts the working hypothesis that governance for better ethics will have to utilize “citizen science” in particular through new narratives explored in participatory exercises. Research shall among others be based on case studies and interviews.

The other major line of research takes its anchor point in the consumer, or more specifically, in the citizen. It asks the question of acceptance and acceptability of seafood products since there is still a significant knowledge gap in regard to formative causes for consumer choices and preferences. In particular in Europe, and especially in relation to seafood, one can observe great variations both in diachronic and synchronic behaviour. Temporary “food scares” have an effect, but also the emergence of niche markets in some countries, for instance organic or fair trade products, is seen as an important trend in consumer attitude. Yet, other analyses like Stefano Ponte’s work on Brand Aid indicate that perhaps not the ethical quality of the product or the production may always be in the forefront of the consumer’s mind, but rather the promise of contributing to a “good cause”. Therefore, this line of research shall explore these questions through qualitative interviews and other materials.

A further focus for more research shall be on conceptual matters, in particular directed to matters of practical ethics. Some of the concepts underlying ethical production and ethical consumption are poorly explored when taking into account the value plurality within societies and across different cultures. The PI has led a EU project entitled “Value Isobars” which explored some crucial issues conceptually and methodologically. In the light of this, it emerges that while some purely theoretical work may clarify some aspects of the problem, empirical work is needed in order to gain insight into the relation between values, principles and norms. This could be termed “experimental philosophy” since conceptual clarification is seen to emerge from empirical data. Research under this heading will involve surveys, interviews and workshops in various countries.

Accompanying all the research efforts of ESea will be a continuous effort to update and strengthen the researchers’ knowledge of global fisheries and aquaculture realities. A database of relevant literature and documents shall be established.